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The 24 hours of Le Mans has been called the greatest race in the world and this year is no exception—three LMP1 manufacturers, front GTE Pro manufacturer programmes and 55 cars on the grid for 24 hours of racing, what more could you want?

Lets start with LMP1—so the excitement going into this year’s race for most F1 fans is the return of Mark Webber with Porsche. For me—besides having Mark back racing at Le Mans—the excitement of having three full manufacturer programmes with three very technically different solutions to reach one goal is very compelling.

Audi

The first rule might be—never hit your teammate, but history has taught us that the first rule at Le Mans is—never rule out Audi Sport Team Joest. Despite a difficult opening to the 2014 World Endurance Championship season, Audi is never to be underestimated.

Three Prototypes come from the Ingolstadt squad this year. Car Number One is Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen, joined by Loic Duval and Lucas Di Grassi. Duval took Capello’s spot when he retired. Loic went on to win the race with Allan and Tom last year. Di Grassi is the latest driver to join the crew of the #1 car, having previously raced at Le Mans to 3rd position last year in car #3.

Car #2 retains its usual line up of Treluyer, Fassler and Lotterer, which probably makes this the favourite of the three Audi’s entered. Whilst car #3 is the young guns—Felipe Albuquerque, Marco Bononomi and Oliver Jarvis—this entry is certainly not light on talent. Perhaps a little lighter on race experience at Le Mans, you can’t rule them out surprising people however; this is the future team of Audi Sport at Le Mans.

Toyota

Toyota’s now in year-three of its LMP1 programme since leaving Formula One and the first year with its TS040 prototype under the new 2014 LMP1 regulations. So far the TS040 has been the strongest of the season, so logically it’s the favourite going into Le Mans. Reliability, however, like Audi and Porsche, has not been fool proof although Toyota has, ultimately, had the best.

Drivers for the two cars are Alex Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima in car #7 and Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lappiere and Sebastien Buemi in Car #8.

I think if Toyota are going to win Le Mans, this year is the teams best chance an dif they fail, it won’t be due to a lack of talent or commitment from Toyota or it’s drivers. It’s been three years and it’s time to win. Nissan are joining next year, Porsche will be stronger next year, and more manufacturers are rumoured to come. The car currently is strong, the team’s driving talent is outstanding and ultimately Toyota has to cement that early season pace.

Porsche

I want to say that Porsche will go out and win Le Mans on year one—for the history of the marque at the French endurance classic—however, I have to be realistic. The 919 Hybrid has the speed to compete, as seen in Spa, but it lacks the reliability and as a result it would be unrealistic to think that Porsche could return and win Le Mans on year one. Porsche have stated that finishing the race this year is the target, but I do expect some challenge from them in the first six hours of the race, after which it is somewhat into the unknown.

Mark Webbers return to the race has created some extra excitement for the race but lets not forget his teammates—in car #14 we have Romain Dumas who is an extremely experienced prototype Sportscar pilot and all-round great driver. Neel Jani, who has moved from Rebellion Racing into Porsche’s prototype entry this year, with Marc Lieb joining the pair. All three of which have masses of experience between them at Le Mans in prototypes and GT entries.

In Car #20, Timo Bernhard who, like Dumas, has spent the last few years at Le mans with Audi, Mark Webber and with then Brendon Hartley. Personally I’m really happy that Brendon has landed a strong, long-term seat in the sport after a few years of working between numerous teams. He really impressed me at Silverstone.

Rebellion Racing

Sadly the only privateer-entered LMP1 cars under the 2014 regulations in this year’s race although full credit to Rebellion for getting the R-ONE to Spa and to Le Mans, with limited running and a very limited budget compared to what the Manufacturers have. The Rebellion squad are running LMP1-L regulations and given the early development of the car, finishing the 24 hours would be a strong success.

LMP2

Whilst LMP2 involvement has been down somewhat in numbers due to various circumstances and the LMP2 class cars struggling with the performance balancing in the USA, It hasn’t been all bad news for the class. The ELMS has had a huge resurgence this year with several LMP2 entries racing in the championship full season and with a number of those teams gaining invites to Le Mans. It is going to be hotly contested with 17 LMP2 entries.

That’s not all the good news either, Ligier’s JS P2 makes it’s LMP2 debut at Le man run by Thiriet by TDS Racing and Oak Racing – Team Asia. Drivers in the class include Marc Gene, Karun Chandhok, Mika Salo and Rene Rast among the field.

GTE PRO

The Manufacturers are in town, with Ferrari (represented by AF Corse and RAM Racing), Porsche AG Team Manthey, Corvette Racing and Aston Martin in the race. The GTE Pro class reads as a who’s who of international racing. Giancarlo Fisichella, Jan Magnussen, Jorg Bergmeister, Richard Westbrook, Bruno Senna and James Calado, just to name a few, are racing in this small but incredibly competitive class.

The class should be incredible, although I expect the battle to be between AF Corse and Porsche Team Manthey personally, unless Aston Martin’s performance breaks and Chevrolet’s C7 surprise me come qualifying. Either way, it’s great to see Corvette bring the whole factory team over once again with the new C7. Rival TUSC squad and Detroit manufacturer, Chrysler’s SRT division with the Viper was due to come to Le Mans again this year, however, due to Viper car sales, the race entries from SRT where pulled earlier this year.

GTE AM

The Pro-Am class in this years race uses the same 1245 KG cars as the GTE Pro class. The car regulations themselves are effectively the same however they require one bronze rated driver and a silver rated driver, or two bronze drivers, as set out by the commission. The aim is to allow for gentleman drivers to be entered within Le Mans in line with the races heritage. The way in which drivers are graded are based upon the success of a driver, however it has caused some controversy with how a driver is rated at times.

Anyway, that aside, the class is the largest contingent of cars in this year’s race, with 19 cars, between entries from Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin. It’s a class that doesn’t always gain as much TV coverage as it deserves, the racing is good and the term “Gentleman driver” in some cases is misconceived within this class.

Garage 56

Nissan are entering the ZEOD RC, with the aim to complete a lap of the circuit on electric power. The project is entirely out of classification within the context of the race.

How to watch

In the UK and most of Europe, Eurosport have full coverage of all 24 hours + practice and qualifying, available through the Eurosport player and Eurosport 1 & 2. In the USA, the race will be broadcast in full between the Fox Sports family of channels. See your local listings for details.

Radiolemans.com will provide trackside and online/ satellite radio coverage of the whole event.

I hope you enjoy this years Le Mans 24 hours in part or in full this year, Thanks.

  • Viel Glück Porsche!

    • Tom Firth

      Very good Jeff. It will certainly be an interesting year for Porsche, I think you will be very happy with the factory GT team come sunday evening. The prototype team, Reliability aside is very strong.

  • Best wishes to Loic Duval following that horrific practice crash…

    Rampant Porsche fanboy-ism aside, LMP classes are fascinating this year. In LMP1, you’re right, never count out Audi rebounding, Toyota’s the current leader, and Porsche brings historical/engineering credibility and 1st year speed with its new effort. Fun stuff in -1. Add Nissan’s always-interesting category-benders, the Mazda’s pending return, etc., and Prototypes looks set for compelling upcoming seasons.

    I’d hope C7 does well in GTE; it’s not my style of car, but I respect Corvette’s capabilities, and good competition ups everyone’s game.

    • Tom Firth

      LMP1 is incredible this year, with the three different approaches as well as what you mentioned. Nissan should be very interesting next year joining in, besides what they have for Garage 56. I haven’t heard anything about Mazda returning, besides some speculation, since Lola went bankcrupt and with it the end of the original Mazda LMP1 idea.

      The LMP2 Mazda/Speedsource diesel that races in TUSCC in the USA, is a former Lola chassis rebadged and re-homologated under Mazda, which is improving every race in reliability and could one day return to Le mans I guess, it’s certainly legal to do so.

      Whether Mazda do I aren’t sure, unless i’ve missed something. It’s interesting actually, In the USA, it seems Mazda is seen as a much more prevalent motorsport brand. it doesn’t seem to hold the same appeal over here anymore, we have MX-5 championships but its at grass roots and barely mentioned.

      As for Corvette, I respect how they come over from the TUSCC/ALMS every year and commit to racing at Le Mans, I wish the execs at Chevrolet would make it a full season WEC programme, but can understand how racing in IMSA TUSCC is more appealing to them than WEC.

      • Yup, I too love that 1-H manufacturers developed alternate power plant solutions.

        Mazda is my mistake, taking it’s USSC contender, adding WEC rumors, and coming up w/ 3.

        I think Mazda’s motorsport rep stems from the fact it’s roadcars road cars are heralded for excellent driving dynamics respective to price and class competition. IMO, we in the States equate road car w/ race car (see NASCAR). Open-wheeled motorsport gets very little exposure, hill climbs nearly nonexistent.

        I’m not involved in racing save the odd track day, but my impression is grassroots racing and Autocross, affordable motorsport, are the circuit/road competition here; a purview where Miata excels. Motorsport is still a fringe pastime, relative to football/baseball/basketball/hockey, even soccer.

        One must remember we Americans are still uncultured, brash barbarians… :D

        • Tom Firth

          It’s interesting what you say about a fringe sport actually, been a sportscar fan. It does still appear very much on the fringe of an ecosystem in Europe that is primary F1 centric. Thankfully every now and again, this weekend been one of those times, sportscars gets it’s big moment in the limelight with the amazement that is Le Mans.

          I have to admit though that since the WEC was launched as an FIA world championship, popularity has certainly increased, showing the power that having that prestige brings to a series.

          It all still has a long way to go but things are positive. I’m hoping that the next round at Austin is good for the series in the US. It lacked in exposure and numbers last year but hopefully like every WEC round so far, The Webber/Porsche effect helps along with some discontent in the way USCC has evolved. Therefore increasing the numbers of fans at the event for the joint weekend.

          If you mention WEC to someone randomly in the street here, odds are heard a little. Le Mans itself has always and will always be alot more popular however is a clear improvement to if you mentioned ILMC or LMS and you got strange looks of confusion, It’s certainly showing in the number of fans trackside too for rounds in Europe at least.

          • Note, I’m no judge of US motor-racing nor fan interest; perhaps it’s there. In my professional and social circles, it barely rates (“why do you want to watch cars going around in a circle with fat people?” is a common refrain), but perhaps I hang with the wrong people :D

            As we’re still an isolationist country, it will unfortunately take more US events, a US driver in elite series, and a sense of prestige to make further inroads IMO. Austin was a good step, having an event on a coastal site would be better, and critically, effective promotion would do wonders.

            I must admit, Porsche’s re-entry and LMP1-H regs have me more invested in WEC. Before, I’d watch the Le Mans with great interest, but forgo the rest; similar to how I watch Triple Crown horse racing or college basketball “Madness”… Interesting in the moment, then forgotten.

            With Porsche, Nissan next year, a rumored Ferrari Box 56 entry, plus the fascinating and distinct technical regulation solutions from teams, I’m finding myself watching updates/news; another time suck. Perhaps it’s time I attend an event…

            Do you watch GTE-Pro/Am as intently as the prototype classes? I confess glazing over them, despite broad similarities to our road cars.

  • Tom Firth

    Personally I watch GTE Pro and Am as intently myself but the AM class tends to get buried abit.

    However most of that is related to watching other GT series and seeing familiar names racing between them, as I follow ELMS, USCC and various GT3 races/championships additional to the WEC, which creates quite abit of crossover in drivers racing various series.

    I do also like the factory Pro GTE teams and admit to paying more attention to those than the Am cars most the time when it comes to the WEC though. I admit quite abit of that is also down to what TV direction you get for most of the races. I certainly wouldn’t like WEC to not include a GT section as I like the multi-class , different platforms on track structure.

  • Why on earth would fox have the final hour of the race on fox sports 2?? A channel many still do not have (or want/need) someone clearly was not thinking, because I can not think of one logical reason to have the end of a 24 hour race aired on your second tier network…Guess I’m watching the last hour on my phone, wooo hooo!